Tuesday, July 25, 2017

Taking It To The Next Level, Or Something

Illustration by Michael Ramirez, Investor's Business Daily

As the regular readers of this blog -- both of them -- know, I am not a fan of the Republican Party. I think they are callous, and cruel, and beholden to big money, and willing to sacrifice the tatters of what principles they have left in a craven effort to gain more power.

Turns out they ain't the only ones. The Democrats are just as bad, to be honest. While they don't hold majorities ... well, pretty much anywhere, there is much posturing and grandstanding over GOP policies (not without reason because, by and large, GOP policies are pretty horrible), followed immediately by a fundraising pitch.

I put the blame at the feet of the Citizens United decision and the pernicious effect of money in politics.

Presidential campaigns, when normalized for 2016 dollars, have held pretty steady for the past six decades or so. There have been a few anomalies -- Nixon spent nearly twice the historical average in 1972, for example (see graph below) -- and Obama outspent McCain by a nearly 3 to 1 margin in 2008, but for the most part spending levels held pretty steady from 1960 to 2008.


That changed in 2010, with the Citizens United decision that held, basically, that money = speech and therefore is protected by the First Amendment. Not only did the sheer volume of money in politics increase by something like 47 million times, it also allowed for "dark money" -- funds donated to groups that are not required to disclose donors putting out "issue ads."

The end result of this is to essentially put a very high cover charge on political participation. If you are not able to bundle hundreds of thousands, or millions, of dollars for a candidate, the best response you could hope for is a form letter thank you that includes a pitch for you to donate even more, and you could just forget about having any real voice or effect in things.

I do have an idea for a solution, though.

1. Eliminate private campaign donations entirely during the general election.
Individuals, companies, etc. would be able to donate during the primary races. However, once the primaries are held, any remaining campaign funds will be pooled into a general fund, to be distributed equally to the winners of the primaries. Any donations made during the general election will go into this fund directly, and be disbursed equally among the candidates.

2. Close the 527 loophole.
This one will be a bit tricky, as it involves amending the tax code. However, 26 U.S. Code § 527(c)(3) exempts almost all income to a 527 organization:

Exempt function income
For purposes of this subsection, the term “exempt function income” means any amount received as—
  1. a contribution of money or other property,
  2. membership dues, a membership fee or assessment from a member of the political organization,
  3. proceeds from a political fundraising or entertainment event, or proceeds from the sale of political campaign materials, which are not received in the ordinary course of any trade or business, or
  4. proceeds from the conducting of any bingo game (as defined in section 513(f)(2)),
to the extent such amount is segregated for use only for the exempt function of the political organization.
Once we eliminate this section of the tax code, the groups that use dark money will no longer have protected tax status, which will cause donations to dry up.

3. Limit expenditures to the general fund.
Any campaign expenditures -- including issue ads -- occurring during the general election campaign will only be allowed if they come from this general fund. All other expenditures, even from the candidate's personal funds, would be prohibited. This will run up against personal liberty and First Amendment issues, but if we are able to get rid of this ridiculous notion that money is the same as speech it will become easier to regulate.

4. Eliminate outside donations.
Donations of any kind, either to the candidate, the election committee, a PAC, a Super PAC, or an outside group trying to influence things through issue ads, would be prohibited during the general.

The reality is that we will never be able to completely remove the influence of money from politics. However, that doesn't mean we shouldn't try ... it's the only way to make the playing field truly level.

I gotta lie down.

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